When do you know if your novel, your screenplay, your play, or other writing is complete? When do you know when it’s to the point that it’s ready to submit to a contest, or publish, or shown to an agent, a producer, or director? It can be a tricky situation that’s hard to gauge. After all, is any work ever really finished? Isn’t there always room for improvement?
A work is never really finished 100%. Every movie, novel, TV series, and play could have changes made to story, character, plot twists, etc. We’ve all watched movies or TV shows and thought up better ideas and dialogue than what’s being presented on the screen. The creative process, even with a single project, has no definitive end. It’s up to you, the writer, the decide when the work is at its pinnacle of creativity and quality. And there are a few ways I check to see if my work is ready for the COMPLETED stamp.
I usually will give a project a few weeks to rest before I pick it up and read it again. If I read through it and find that I’m only changing words or re-arranging sentences and not finding major plot holes or incomplete storylines, I know that the work is pretty solid. Now, if you decide after reading your work that you want to completely change something that will have a major impact on the story and your characters, then it’s not completed to your creativity and quality standards.
Another sign is if I’m thinking of some great line of dialogue, or description and I go to find the chapter or scene and…what I was thinking is already there. To me that means that I have pushed myself to the creative limit with this particular project to the point that even my new ideas are already present in the story.
If you feel that adding more would feel like your padding the story just to add pages, or by cutting stuff out it would just be for the sake of cutting it out so you feel like you’re doing something with the project, then it’s time to consider that it’s done.
If you let someone read it – particularly someone who will be honest with their feedback – and they don’t come back with any story-altering critiques or anything major that they didn’t like, maybe it’s time to consider the work is complete. Obviously, if this person finds grammar, spelling, or tense issues in the work, those are quick fixes that should not preclude you from proclaiming the work as complete.
The key is that the project is complete in YOUR opinion. You are its creator, so you are the decider in this situation. Now, if you are writing for someone and they disagree that it’s complete, then that’s an entirely different situation (when writing for pay, it’s when the person paying you says the project is completed). But if you are writing this novel or script for yourself, on your terms, and you feel that you’ve taken it as far as you can, then it’s probably finished.
I think, instinctually, you know when a project is completed to your exacting standards. And while perfection is a level that can keep creative people from presenting their work to the world, you know deep inside that moment when your novel, screenplay, or play comes pretty darn close to being perfection.
And then it’s time to let the world read your words, hear your voice, and know your story.